Some two years ago, I wrote a positive review on my food blog about a restaurant in Battersea called Kalesa, a little neighborhood restaurant that, while not particularly remarkable, had delivered a fairly solid meal of laing, pakbet, sizzling pork sisig and leche flan for me and my friends. In a city that was lacking in decent Filipino food options, I felt this to be a ray of light, helping to illuminate the wondrous cuisine of the Philippines. Heck, who knew – perhaps Kalesa could do its part to make Filipino food the Next Big Thing in London.
Well, it was not to be: Kalesa closed up shop, perhaps a victim of its quiet and out-of-the-way location and general unawareness of Filipino food among the wider population, even among Filipinos.
For a city with (as of the 2011 census) 44,000 Filipino-born residents, and an estimated 150,000 more UK-born Filipinos / half-Filipinos, the restaurant scene is frustratingly small. At the time of my dining at Kalesa, I could count all of the Filipino restaurants I knew in London with just the fingers on my two hands – and other Filipinos often counted far less than that, often adding that so-and-so restaurant was not “fancy” or “respectable,” and that they would be ashamed to take their English friends there. One could hardly talk about a Filipino food scene in London, if most people didn’t even realize, or even acknowledge, that one existed.
However, since then, things have changed. I count myself as one of these foodies, having set up The Adobros supper club with my brother back in late 2013.
On the social media grapevine or physically by chance, I would find out in dribs and drabs about new Filipino food businesses that were quietly dishing out their interpretations of the classics. Though they were gaining plaudits, they were passing their days relatively unknown to – and hence unsupported by – the Filipino community. Whether it was because of a desire to break free of the constraints of the “I can get better food at home” mentality, or whether they were just tapping into the more profitable non-Filipino market, either way I started to feel that something needed to be done to bring this new wave of Filipino food to the attention of the wider community.
Indeed, by going out and finding these guys, in order to see who they were, what they did and why they did it, it became clear that these links were needed. So, connections were made, food was shared and friendships were developed. One by one, more appeared, offering their own take on Filipino food. More connections were made, more food was shared and even more friendships developed.
And bit by bit, we were all able to spread by word of mouth the good news that there now existed a new, primarily younger generation of Filipino foodies who were doing their part to raise awareness of adobo, kare kare and buko pie, not just to their friends and families, but also to the wider public. There’s a generation hungry for success and confident that it has what it takes to make its mark on the gastronomic map of London: The New Wave of British Filipino Food.
I find it quite heart-warming that a large proportion of the guests at the Adobros’ supper clubs are now Filipinos, first and second generation, in search of a taste of home and a chance to show their friends just what Filipino food is all about. We’re not alone in this; my foodie friends say very much the same thing. We’re bringing a new appreciation of the Filipino food scene to the wider community, and helping to spur it to new heights.
I can no longer count the number of Filipino food establishments in London using just the fingers on my two hands; these days, I need a whole list published on my blog! And so, I think we can safely say that there is now a Filipino food scene in London. The next time you find yourself craving for a taste of home as a means of staving off the cold drabness of London, do remember that there are Filipino restaurants in town. They are a bit easier to find these days, and while they may not be just like how your mum cooks, they’re still worth a very good go.
BBQ Dreamz, https://twitter.com/bbqdreamz
A market stall, often in the School Yard of Broadway Market or with the Kerb street food collective, serving much-acclaimed and delicious crispy baboy wraps and lemongrass ox heart skewers, among other street food treats. Follow them on Twitter to find out where they’re trading.
Two brothers have set up shop outside Peckham Library to bring their absolutely delicious Filipino version of the burrito to south London: instead of the usual Mexican fare, the FiliShack burrito packs garlic fried rice and chicken inasal. Follow them on Twitter to find out where they’re trading.
Kusina Nova, http://kusinanova.wix.com/kusinanova
Quietly making its mark on Venn Street Market down in Clapham since 2013, Kusina Nova’s signature dishes include “twisted” chicken adobo and beef pares. Follow them on Twitter and check their website for their latest news.
Pinoy’s Kitchen, https://twitter.com/pinoyskitchen
Kristina has been rocking it down in Brixton and here, there and everywhere with her traditional fare that is hearty and delicious. Follow her on Twitter for the latest Pinoy’s Kitchen news and whereabouts.
Pop-Ups and Residencies
“Where Filipino food lives in London”: Maynila provide a platform for Filipino chefs to flex their culinary muscles and show off what they love best about the cuisine. Past events have included hosting chefs dishing out contemporary-style Filipino food, putting on a hearty and delicious kamayan feast and throwing an ambitious and stunningly creative Christmas-themed Noche Buena dinner.
Le Happy Chef, http://www.lehappychef.co.uk/
Certainly one to watch – Rex de Guzman a.k.a. Le Happy Chef is a bright young thing seeking to bring contemporary Filipino food to the London restaurant scene, recently partnering up with Luzon in order to do so through residencies and pop-ups. They intend to establish a permanent restaurant by the end of the year.
The Adobros, http://theadobros.com/
Based out of New Cross in Southeast London, Mark (Yours Truly) and Mike have been hosting supper clubs and pop-ups in their flat and in local cafés and restaurants, providing a hearty and homey experience based on the Filipino food culture they grew up with. Check their website for their announced dates, and sign up to their mailing list in order to hear the latest news first.
Masarap Supper Club, https://www.facebook.com/Masarap-342039539330847/timeline/
Considering that Filipino food could be seen as the first true “fusion” cuisine, it makes sense that Filipino fusion would eventually hit London. Rachelle and friends have now run a handful of well-received pop-ups via the Grub Club online supper club platform, serving fusion dishes such as adobo tacos, kare kare sliders and sisig fries.
Pepe’s Kitchen, http://pepes-kitchen.co.uk/home/
One of the earliest members of the New Wave of British Filipino Food, Mae started Pepe’s Kitchen in honor of her father, and has sought to do him and Filipino food proud with her monthly supper clubs, pop-ups, catering and cooking classes. Proper home-cooking for the soul, all dished out in the extremely welcome setting of her home in Marylebone. Sign up on her mailing list and follow her on Twitter in order to hear her latest news.
Restaurants and Cafés
Cirilo, 4 Cable Street, E1 8JG (nearest Tube Tower Gateway/Tower Hill), 020 7702 2299 http://cirilonoodlebar.co.uk/
A family-run restaurant near Tower Hill. Although it started life as a pan-Asian restaurant, as co-owner Juliet explained, it was because they felt the market wasn’t right for Filipino food back then. But now, they have really embraced their roots and the menu is now dominated by the classics, which they have tried to give their own twists.
Josephine’s, 4 Charlotte Street, W1T 2LP (nearest Tube Goodge Street/Tottenham Court Road), 020 7580 6551 http://www.josephinesrestaurant.co.uk/
Central London’s only permanent Filipino restaurant continues to potter along, one of the unchanging (and dated) fixtures on Charlotte Street. It can be a bit hit-and-miss, but from personal experience their crispy pata and lechon kawali were well-executed.
Kabayan, 12 Walton Road, E13 9BP (nearest Tube Upton Park) https://www.facebook.com/Kabayan-Filipino-Restaurant-Cafe-136117139780291/
Situated in far East London, this neighborhood diner focuses on traditional home-cooked Filipino comfort food. Things have gone a bit quiet on this front – it apparently recently underwent a renovation.
Kamayan sa Earl’s Court, 12 Kenway Road, SW5 0RR (nearest Tube Earl’s Court), 020 7373 3840 http://www.kamayansaearlscourt.co.uk/
227 Kilburn High Road, NW6 7JG (nearest Tube Kilburn/Brondesbury), 020 3689 4727 https://www.facebook.com/kamayansakilburn
Formerly known as Sunrise Café, ever since Lutong Pinoy (see below) rebranded and revamped itself, these guys decided to up their game and rename, rebrand and revamp themselves too. They’ve also gone ahead and opened up a new branch in Kilburn.
Lutong Pinoy, 10 Kenway Road, SW5 0RR (nearest Tube Earl’s Court), 020 7244 0007 http://www.lutongpinoyuk.com/
One of the stalwarts of “Little Manila” in Earl’s Court. I first tried this some nine years ago; since then, it has rebranded and revamped itself under the direction of Marc, the scion of the next generation of the family. Now known for its kamayan evenings, it’s taking steps to make itself known and heard around town as one of the places to go for traditional Filipino food.
Muni Coffee, Address TBC, 07428 693 114 http://www.municoffee.com/
An upcoming Filipino coffee shop whose goal is to revive interest in quality and ethically sourced Filipino coffee, one cup at a time. And, in true Filipino fashion, you’ll be able to enjoy its coffee with some pandesal too. It recently completed its Kickstarter campaign and is now working on locating and setting up a site in west London.
Nayong Pilipino, 913 Garratt Lane, SW17 0LT (nearest Tube Tooting Broadway), 020 8672 4363
What was once known as Kusinaang Munti has undergone a rebrand into its current incarnation, while still retaining its old neighborhood canteen / carinderia ethos and feel, targeted primarily at the local Filipino community. It does a Sunday buffet for £9.99.
Nilo’s, 11 Willesden Lane, NW6 7RB (nearest Tube Kilburn/Brondesbury), 020 7625 1118 https://www.facebook.com/Nilos-Restaurant-427641133948259/timeline/
Word has trickled down out of Kilburn of a decent Filipino restaurant that goes by the name of Nilo’s. I am yet to make it up there, but I am eager to give its traditional Filipino offerings a good go.
Romulo Café, 343 Kensington High Street, W8 6NW (nearest Tube High Street Kensington/Kensington Olympia), 020 3141 6390 http://www.romulocafe.co.uk/
Romulo Café is a well-established chain of refined home-cooking back in Manila that is now taking its first steps into Europe. It’s set to open in March 2016, bringing signature dishes like chicken relleno, boneless crispy pata binagoongan and beef kaldereta with keso de bola – all recipes from the family of the great Filipino statesman, Carlos P. Romulo.
Tapsilogan sa Tooting Express, Tooting Market, 21-23 Tooting High Street, SW17 0SN (nearest Tube Tooting Broadway)
A recent discovery in Tooting Market, this hole-in-the-wall kitchen specializes in the –silog breakfast dishes. At £3.50 for a plate of tapsilog that was actually rather more-ish, it’s hard to resist snacking at this south London secret.
Mark Corbyn is, during the week a business analyst - and at the weekends, one-half of The Adobros, a Filipino supper club based in London.
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